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Rugby's oldest club fixture

John GriffithsMarch 13, 2014
Rugby has changed a fair bit since the 19th century... © Getty Images
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What were the details of the first Richmond/Blackheath match played 150 years ago? Tom H, England

The sides marked the 150th anniversary of England's longest-running club fixture on Saturday, drawing 31-31 at the Athletic Ground. The first match took place on January 2, 1864 at Richmond Green where the result was also a draw, each side scoring a goal. Three weeks later, Blackheath won the return on the Common by five goals to nil. Today the clubs are side by side, occupying mid-table positions in National League One.

The early matches were probably played under a hybrid of rugby and association rules, and team numbers varied. (The RFU was not founded until 1871). It is recorded, for instance, that for the match in January 1867 at Richmond Green each side played 25 men, "and about half the players were Old Rugbeians."

The clubs were the leading teams in England for many years and matches between them drew large and partisan crowds. Referring to one of the 1877 meetings between the teams, a Richmond club historian wrote: "unseemly behaviour in the course of a match against Richmond caused Blackheath to leave the heath … and become tenants of a private ground."

And so from 1878 until 1883 Blackheath staged their games at Richardson's Field, scene also for the inaugural England-Wales international in 1881. The land was then acquired by a Building Society and sold off for housing, whereupon the Club moved to Rectory Field where they first met Richmond on January 12, 1884.

Richmond, meanwhile, had moved to Old Deer Park as their home in 1873 before vacating it in 1889 (for use by various London clubs since then) when they adopted the Athletic Ground.

John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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Writer Bio

John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.

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